Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Stuart Mitchell

PhD Candidate, Department of Film & Television Studies


I graduated from the Royal College of Art Film & Television MA course in 1997. My thesis was titled “We want to be in trouble” and was a defence of observational documentary. It was awarded a distinction and the Allen Lane prize for Best Postgraduate Essay. My graduation film (‘Stood for this Massive’, about a big-time sports gambler) was shown at numerous film festivals, including IDFA and London Film Festival, and subsequently broadcast by the BBC in 1998.

For the next 15 years I worked as a freelance producer, director and cameraman on prime-time broadcast documentaries, primarily for BBC and Channel 4, with many of the major independent production companies, including The Garden, Films of Record, October Films, Twenty-Twenty, RDF and Dragonfly TV. The programmes covered a range of approaches and subjects, but were mostly observational or authored films on contemporary social issues.

Since 2008 I have been teaching documentary at the National Film and Television School and at Westminster, Herts and West of England Universities, and have been a course leader on the MA drama directing courses and BA Documentary module leader at Westminster and at Herts University.



My PhD thesis, “Performing Lives: Our Emotional Encounter with Documentary Performance and Story”, is a theoretical and empirical examination of our emotional engagement with documentary subjects and approaches. I am particularly interested in the use of performance and staging strategies, long regarded as antithetical to documentary truth claims yet recently adopted in many creative guises. The project will explore the intentions of makers and how they elicit affect in viewers.

Drawing on my practical experience and that of significant industry professionals, I am developing a theoretical model, in a cognitive and perceptual framework, that will be supported by numerous primary case studies. Over the last twenty years film studies has turned its attention to more specifically exploring our emotional and empathic responses to film characters and their narratives, through the interdisciplinary work of cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind and neuroscience research. My research will explore and extend these theories by focusing on documentary. The research is funded by an AHRC Doctoral Award.

Supervisor: Dr Stella Bruzzi



‘How Secrets Travel – David Lynch and the Road’, in Lost Highways, Ed. Jack Sargeant, Creation Books, 2001.


The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013